Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

You Better Lose Yourself In The Music

by Robison Wells

Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable.
--Samuel Johnson

One of the most frequently asked questions on writer forums (I frequent six such websites) is "Do you listen to music while you write?" My answer is a solid yes. As a matter of fact, my answer is: "Girl, you know it's true." Also: "Yes to ya mama, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh."

Adding to the list of silly medical conditions with which I am afflicted (along with Restless Leg Syndrome and a double-jointed shoulder blade) is my utter inabilty to block out background noise. In other words, when I go to my mother-in-law's house, and there's a TV on in every room, and the kids are playing, and my wife and her sister are talking, and the phone rings, then my head explodes. But more to the point: if I'm at home, trying to write, and anything is going on in the house, I can hear it -- and I can't ignore it.

(Here's an example of how bad it is: at night I have to cover up the alarm clock with a pillow so I can't hear it. AND THE CLOCK IS FRICKING DIGITAL! I swear, it makes a very faint whirring noise. No one else can hear it. Also: I swear, on the Bible and my well-worn copy of Charly, I can hear my own spinal fluid. Honestly, I promise I can.) (So, maybe the issue isn't so much a hearing problem as it is dementia?)

So, what I started doing was to listen to music while I write. Not the radio, mind you, but music that I'm extremely familiar with; music of which I know every note and lyric. And I listen to it with headphones, and I listen to it loud. This way, I hear the music, but nothing else.

And whether by chance or design (I can't remember), two of my books have been written with theme music--whatever playlist I had running on my computer, I kept throughout the entire writing process. In fact, my first two books each had a specific song that I'd listen to to set the mood (these were primarily to set the mood for the romance portions of the book, because I'm not a very romantic person by nature, and needed help). For On Second Thought, the song was Dave Matthews Band's Angel. For Wake Me When It's Over, it was DMB's Grace is Gone. In between those books I wrote another, unpublished novel that was written entirely to Sacred Spirits--kind of traditional Native American music set to a dance beat. There's a funny couple of paragraphs in On Second Thought that exist solely because I was listening to Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone while writing.

Who's the cat who won't cop out when there's danger all about? Answer: not me! I'm copping out by pulling a Kerry (and a Stephanie) and posing a question, making you, the reader, do the hard work. The cop-out question is: what do you listen to while you write? And if you don't listen to music, why not? And: can you hear your own spinal fluid? If not, you should. (If so, does it tell you to burn things, too? Weird.)


At 9/26/2006 12:56 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Here's what I listen to:

Natalie Merchant is the foundation. From my very first, crappy, learn-how-to-write-a-book book to everything I'm writing now, Natalie Merchant is always in the mix.

Add in a little Beatles, the later stuff: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Across the Universe, etc.

Some DMB: Mostly from the Busted Stuff and Live at Folsom Fields albums.

Moby. Can't get enough Moby.

Paul Simon, Graceland and Negotiations and Lovesongs.

A couple soundtracks: City of Angels, Ocean's Eleven.

Other stuff: Peter Breinholt, Neil Diamond, Jim Croce, BNL, Dido, Sam Payne.

I like it all shuffled together, playing on the computer -- a big long playlist. All of this stuff is my novel-writing list, and it's all fairly mellow. When I write blogs or website stuff, I'll run the All-Music playlist, which is much more varied.

At 9/26/2006 1:37 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I can't hear my spinal fluid over the voices in my head, and I don't listen to anything but birds and chickens and assorted other wildlife when I write. But if there is any possibility it would give me your gift, Rob, I'll run out for a Natalie Merchant CD today!

At 9/26/2006 2:00 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Whether or not it helps your writing, you should run out and buy a Natalie Merchant CD anyway. It's awesome.

At 9/26/2006 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is falacy to think spinal fluid can be heard, let alone speak. And digital clocks make no noise. Stick with the facts, Rob. Ground yourself in reality. Your electrical cord may cause a hum, but only beyond 2500 HZ and that would blow your house to the ground. What I'm saying here is that that dogs can hear ultra-sonic sounds, but the only fricking inaudible sound an unimpaired human ear could possibly detect within or without the double-octive hearing range are aline toxins seeping across the blood brain barrier. I believe its time for me to phone home.

Best writing music:

Nickle Creed (especially Sweet Afton, Green and Gray, This Side, The Fox and maybe When in Rome)

Also: Guster (especially Grin, Jesus on the Radio, All the Way Up to Heaven and maybe Eden)

Also: Mormon Tab (ONLY: Holy Infant played anytime of year--the most powerful combination of lyrics, melody and performance quality ever composed by any human or extra-terrestrial)

At 9/26/2006 2:11 PM, Blogger FHL said...

I don't go anywhere without my MP3 player and 1900 of my favorite songs. (Seriously, the playlist is called Favorites.) I'm not a DMB fan, sorry, but I can get into most of the other stuff you list. I don't write much, but it would be an interesting experiment to write a couple of short pieces with different mixes. Like, would a heavy Evanescence set turn my thoughts dark? Or They Might Be Giants towards the obscure (and, subtly, dark, too) Despite the peppy sound, many of their songs are pretty sad. Ana Ng? They'll Need a Crane?

Natalie Merchant is wonderful - I think I like her solo work better than 10K Maniacs. If you like Dido, you should try Jem (Album: Finally Woken)

I confess that I wouldn't know what my spinal fluid sounded like if I heard it.

Sometimes my heartbeat keeps me awake - I wish it would just stop!

At 9/26/2006 2:15 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I like a lot of the 80's stuff, like Def Leppard and Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, or even some Sugar Ray, Chicago and Cameo. Mozart is always the best choice when going with classical stuff though, and Johnny Cash or George Strait for country. (Women country singers grate on my ears. They all have an annoying twang.)

I find that when I'm reading Rob Wells' books that Zamfir helps.

At 9/26/2006 2:55 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Anonymous, are you calling me crazy?

FHL, have you heard House Carpenter's Daughter? A big deviation from Natalie Merchant's normal stuff, but it's great. And I forgot to mention that I do have Evanescense in the mix. No TMBG, though.

Julie: I don't even know what that means.

At 9/26/2006 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9/26/2006 5:05 PM, Anonymous Fellfrosch said...

I used to listen to music while I write, but it couldn't be anything with lyrics--if I could hear words, they'd get in a fight with the words I'm trying to write. I would usually turn on some web radio and listen to European techno (ambient and trance rather than house)--something that can be in the background and keep things focused. For the most part, however, I've stopped listening to anything while I write. I find that when I'm in the middle of a scene or a conversation the last thing I need is somebody else's interpretation getting in the way.

At 9/26/2006 6:22 PM, Anonymous Mom said...

I, too, hear everything. I probably am the source of your hearing everything - genetics, you know. But lately I'm finding that I hear music that is not there - am I crazy? Or just in love?

At 9/26/2006 6:39 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Okay here is what I listen to when I write:

Nathan Oglethorpe and the Peapods
Omande Philharmonic
The Flat Tires
Henry Buffort and the Spinal Trio
Ingid Potts plays the classics
Na, na, na, and the Ooblecks
Gee Whiz Ma

Always that and always in that order. It helps me concentrate.

At 9/26/2006 8:37 PM, Blogger KB said...

I can't hear my spinal fluid, but when I haven't been able to sleep for several nights, I'm pretty sure I can hear my brain cells... "as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened."

Sometimes a particular song will spark an idea or a mood for a story. Then I put it on repeat and play it over and over while I write.

At 9/27/2006 12:25 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Oh! Oh! KB, was that from Star Wars? Am I about to get one right??

I listen to the following:

"Mom, when will we have lunch?"
"Mom, he's hitting me."
"Mommy!! Mommy!! She said I'm stupid!"

I can't listen to music because I can't stand instrumental and if I'm listening to songs with lyrics, I have to sing along. Therefore, no writing gets done.

At 9/27/2006 12:25 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Oh, and one more thing -- does anonymous not understand the word "hyperbole?"

At 9/27/2006 12:30 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

I listen to Neil Diamond almost exclusively while I write, which is odd, since I write novels about families and individuals in the Old West. But DANG! the man can set a mood!

Marsha Ward
Writer in the Pines

At 9/27/2006 3:17 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Since I'm tone deaf, I don't listen to music much anytime, but certainly not while I'm trying to write. Actually, I was wondering if some of the titles or groups listed here were the offensive terms Sariah referred to--sorry, I couldn't resist saying that. Maybe she meant the word verifications--some of those get a little questionable.

At 9/27/2006 8:40 PM, Anonymous Marnie Pehrson said...

Rob, I can't hear my spinal fluid. I wasn't aware that it made noise. What exactly does it sound like? Gurgling like a clogged drain? Rushing like a river? Or maybe flushing like a toilet? :)

I do need music to write, though. I build a different soundtrack for each book before I start it. If I get the music right, the story flows. I like lots of styles - from classic to country. For my last ebook, I listened to a lot of Josh Turner and Carrie Underwood.

At 9/27/2006 8:56 PM, Blogger KB said...

Yes, Tristi. It's from Star Wars. :)

At 9/28/2006 10:23 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Marnie, I can only hear my spinal fluid (or whatever it is) if my neck is bent in a certain way -- most often it's when I'm laying down, and head is propped up (so my chin is almost touching my chest). I kind of makes a bubbly whooshing sound. (Yes, I know that if there were bubbles in your spinal fluid, you'd probably die or something. I'm not explaining it--I'm just saying what I can hear.)

At 9/28/2006 1:58 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Score! I finally got a movie quote right!

At 10/05/2006 9:49 AM, Blogger G.Ellen said...

Rob, you just crack me up. I love reading your blogs!! As for writing with music, sometimes I stick Yanni in, I love his tribute album. The children all like to listen to various music, and usually while I'm writing, so I shoot it down most of the time. It's too hard to write with that NOISE going on! LOL. I know exactly what you mean, although I don't notice the alarm clock, I notice the light attached to it makes a slight noise as it starts turning on...a buzzing that really bugs me!!! ARGH!

At 10/15/2006 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I hear my own spinal fluid alot. I hate it it drives me crazy. Or maybe I'm already crazy since I can hear it and apparently not many of us can. It sounds like when you force saliva through your front teeth. Glad I'm not the only weirdo out there...LOL


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